It topped 100F at Heathrow, making it the hottest day ever in the UK and slapping in the face those who deny that global warming exists. In Nottingham, however, it was pouring down and our departure was delayed by waiting for the rain to clear. That meant we missed the first half of the Cosmic Rough Riders set inside DeMontfort Hall. They were indoors and had shed their lead singer and main songwriter, Dan Wylie, since I last saw them. They are no longer the ugliest band I’ve ever seen. Instrumentally, they’re great, in a mid-60s Byrds sort of way. Vocally, they’re less strong (but more in the right key) and some of their back catalogue song choices weren’t the strongest (drop the Glastonbury song, boys), but the last single Because You was nice. I’ll be picking up the album.
Outside, we sat down just as the rain hit. The Guinness golf umbrella and black bin liners I’d brought came in handy. Rain kept coming during Aqualung’s Radiohead meets Coldplay set and we chatted with Terry, Sue, Liz, Rob and John about past and future gigs. I wandered off and watched the end of Rosie Thomas’s set, nice Joni Mitchellish stuff. Sue was somewhat disconcerted by our having met up with a bunch of people even keener on getting near the front than I was, but by twenty past seven, we found ourselves standing four back from the front, centre stage, in the remarkably relaxed crowd. Fifteen minutes later, we were saying ‘Blimey, that’s Emmylou Harris. Why’s she wearing sunglasses?’
Only it wasn’t Emmylou, who appeared moments later, looking stunning (hard to keep my eyes off her all evening). No, it was her mum, who watched the whole show from the side of the stage. The five acts sat on stools across the stage (with a Leicester born Pretender on additional guitar) and Emmylou kicked off with ‘Red Dirt Girl’, the title track from her latest album. The view was great, the sound was terrific, the weather cleared (hardly a drop of rain the rest of the night). It was one of those shows where everything came together (apart from the odd drunken, ‘Steve Earle’ shouting grebo – Billy Bragg evidently taught Emmylou the meanings of ‘Grebo’ and ‘Builder’s Tea’ on this two date UK tour).
I’d seen Steve Earle’s Jerusalem tour earlier this year -a bitter, angry, anti invasion of Iraq show. Tonight, he’d shaved his beard, was wearing glasses and a short sleeved shirt and looked like a mild mannered accountant (albeit one with rage bubbling underneath, a bit like the D Fens character Michael Douglas plays in Falling Down. As a songwriter and musician, Steve dominated the evening, though there were no big egos on stage. He played along with a lot of the other singers. Joan Baez was like the patron saint of the show – a silver haired grandmother centre stage: lovely voice, but lacking something for me. Her version of Earle’s ‘Christmas In Washington’ was only so-so. Billy Bragg played a wonderfully rewritten ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ (a song he’s updated every time I’ve seen him) and I wish I could remember some of the anti Bush and Blair witticisms he included. Later, he updated the standard ‘Bourgeois Blues’ into the ‘Bush War Blues’. Chrissie Hynde started with ‘Biker’, which is an OK song but an odd choice. She seemed slightly uncomfortable throughout, not used to being on stage listening to other people. Steve’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was probably good, but a bloke to my left collapsed, hopefully just from dehydration, and had to be passed into the moat for first aid (well done, Rob and John, who helped) rather distracting us from the song. At the end of the first half, the founder of the Nobel peace prize winning Campaign For A Landmine Free World, wheelchair bound Bobby Muller, made a stirring speech.
Highlights of the second half included Chrissie Hynde doing a stunning, almost acapella ‘Hymn To Her’ and duetting with Emmylou on Gram Parson’s ‘She’. Then there was everybody singing Tim Hardin’s classic ‘Reason To Believe’, Earle’s ‘Jerusalem’ and the closer, Earle’s ‘Devil’s Right Hand’. The encore was a loose but loving version of the standard ‘Goodnight, Irene’ which Sue shocked me by confessing she’d never heard before. I mean, OK, she’s a wee bit younger than the rest of our small gang, but even Bryan Ferry recorded ‘Goodnight, Irene’… The show was over by ten and we were able to watch the (not so) final episode of ’24’ before bed. A magic night out ending a fine festival, heat and all. We’ll be back.